Max, depressed and contemplating suicide, unexpectedly meets a stranger named Bill on one of his evening walks. Bill wastes no time with enigmatic wordplay: He admits up front that he’s an angel who’s been assigned to attend to Max—to talk with him and lead him to “the Road of Knowledge” and, in the process, help him understand his own life a little better. Hanian’s portrayal of Bill has none of the gentle sentimentality usually found in angelic characters. Instead, Bill is often curt and abrupt—at one point, Max refers, somewhat euphemistically, to Bill’s “usually cheerful sardonic disposition”—and he has little patience for Max’s brooding ways. “You just wander around seeing nothing but what’s in front of your nose,” he complains. “You miss out on things that way.” Bill then instructs Max in all the things he’s failed to see, and they talk about the true meaning of fairy tales, the nature of faith and free will, “the mediocrity of the male sex” (a particularly grating shock to young Max), the power of words, and, ultimately, the reality and illusion of death. Hanian briskly moves the story along over the course of months, as Bill guides Max not only toward better understanding, but also toward a life with his girlfriend, Liz, a frustratingly underrealized character who takes an increasingly central role. These conversations, in Blakenley’s smooth translation, are stripped of preachy morality or heavy philosophical digression. Their relative simplicity gives the novel an unexpected feel of verisimilitude. Hanian’s characterization of Bill, in particular, is confidently done: He’s a crusty, short-tempered angel, but an endearingly individual one, who uses a cane not because he needs it, but because he likes how it looks.
A rare example of inspirational fiction that will appeal to believers and nonbelievers alike.